A man killed his father and stepmother in western Pennsylvania, then tried to cover up the slayings with a story claiming they had perished in a fiery New Jersey car crash _ a ruse that prompted the stepmother's family to post an obituary in her hometown newspaper, a prosecutor and state police said Thursday.
Butler County prosecutor Ben Simon told The Associated Press that 40-year-old Colin Abbott was arrested at his Randolph, N.J., home early Thursday morning. Abbott was taken into custody a day after Pennsylvania State Police found the charred remains of Kenneth, 65, and Celeste Abbott, 55, outside their upscale home on a wooded lot near Slippery Rock, about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Simon, an assistant district attorney, would not say how the Abbotts were killed _ or whether authorities know how they died _ because a coroner and a team of forensic anthropologists were still at the scene Thursday.
Police charged Colin Abbott after finding his stepmother's wallet along with a case for a .380-caliber handgun in his home, Simon said. Abbott was being held in the Morris County, N.J., jail awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania on two counts of criminal homicide, though Simon said other charges may be added.
Simon did not say if investigators have determined a motive, though Kenneth Abbott was wealthy. He paid $875,000 for his home, according to county property records, and was well off after selling a pharmaceutical business to a larger corporation years ago, Simon said.
What investigators are certain about is the bizarre chain of events that led to Abbott's arrest began shortly after June 5, the last time family members had seen or heard from his father and stepmother.
Within days, Simon said, "Colin started calling family members and telling them that the Abbotts died in a fiery car crash in New Jersey," and that little more than ashes were left as remains still in state police custody there. Simon said Abbott told the relatives his father and stepmother planned to visit him during a trip to Atlantic City, N.J.
Police have found a text message sent from Celeste Abbott's cell phone to Colin Abbott's on June 7 saying, "Hey, we're coming to Atlantic City, we're on our way," Simon said. But authorities believe Colin Abbott might have sent it to his own phone "just to cover his bases," Simon said.
On June 15, an obituary Celeste Abbott was published in her hometown newspaper, the Journal-Register of Medina, N.Y., the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. David Mitchell, a funeral director at the Christopher-Mitchell Funeral Home in nearby Albion, N.Y., did not immediately return a call from the AP for comment, but told the Post-Gazette he placed the brief death notice at the request of her sister, whom he would not identify.
The four-paragraph death notice, which can still be found online, said only that she died "suddenly" on June 9, in Plant City, N.J.
Simon said one of Celeste Abbott's daughters contacted Colin Abbott to ask about a death certificate she needed for insurance purposes. He was evasive, Simon said, and assured her he would handle such details and that he planned to spread his father and stepmother's ashes on their Pennsylvania homestead.
A lack of firm answers prompted a distraught family member, whom Simon could not immediately identify, to call New Jersey State Police on Tuesday to ask about the remains. After police determined there was no record of any such accident or deaths, they called their Pennsylvania counterparts to check on the Abbotts' home on Wednesday.
There, Simon said, troopers found "two burn piles and human remains in the backyard and parts of a skeleton in a pond," which prompted the search of Colin Abbott's home and his arrest.
June Elich, 80, of Albion, N.Y., said her son is the father of two of Celeste Abbott's four children _ daughters Melissa, 22, and Tayler Elich, 21, also of Albion. Elich said the family was stunned by the car crash ruse and said news of her actual death has doubly stunned them.
"They already had a memorial service a long time ago," Elich said.
Elich doesn't know if there will be another, and said the family was too distraught to talk because Celeste's 90-year-old mother, Rose Ward, died Sunday, in part, Elich believes, because she was mourning her daughter.
"Celeste's mother was just buried today so it's a mess," Elich said Thursday.
New Jersey State Police said they had no record yet of any attorney representing Colin Abbott, nor did the Morris County prosecutor's office, which will handle the case should he not waive extradition.